Wiping the slate clean offshore of Madeira!
Setting sail from Brest on Sunday at 12:30 UTC, the Arkea Ultim Challenge fleet has had a third day at sea, this one punctuated by light airs. Whilst Charles Caudrelier and his five companions on this round the world race enjoyed a brisk start to the race, really fulfilling the potential of their fantastic flying machines, today has seen a complete change of atmosphere and the speeds have plummeted. Indeed, short of breeze since this morning, the 32-metre giants are rounding a zone of high pressure. To negotiate the random conditions synonymous with this anticyclonic zone to best effect, the sailors know that opportunism and patience will be their weapons of choice. This is especially true given that the weather scenario is proving favourable for a general bunching up of the fleet as they approach the Portuguese archipelago of Madeira. Charles Caudrelier has yielded his lead by a handful of miles to Thomas Coville. In fact, the two men even crossed tacks within a few boat lengths of one another this afternoon amidst an oceanic match racing atmosphere.
A trajectory in the shape of a gull’s wing as they gear up for their first depression

 Not far from Gitana’s base in Lorient, three men are alternating night and day within the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild’s weather routing cell. This group of experts comprises Erwan Israël, a mainstay of various Gitana crews over the past few years and the recent co-skipper of Charles Caudrelier in the Transat Jacques Vabre, Julien Villion and Benjamin Schwartz. Supporting this trio of sailors is American meteorologist Chris Bedford, who is deciphering and analysing the major trends for Charles Caudrelier on the other side of the Atlantic.

This morning, during their daily round-up, they discussed what was set to be a tough day, not least for the sailors’ nerves: “The start has gone rather well, with some good navigation at the head of the fleet, but things are getting tougher today as they round to the south of a zone of high pressure! In terms of trajectory, we’re going to adopt the famous gull wing-shaped trajectory to hunt down our gybing position to the south. It won’t be quick, but this day of very light winds will very soon be replaced by an entirely different atmosphere since tomorrow evening the solo sailors will have to negotiate their first depression of this round the world race. This low-pressure phenomenon (980 hPa measured at its centre) which we’ve been observing for several days, is generating a lot of gradient and its stormy wake seems very active. The next few hours will involve a compromise to determine where we want to position the gybe. It won’t be an easy manoeuvre, as there will be rather heavy 5 m seas, with around 30 knots of breeze and gusts.”

This storm sequence is scheduled to roll through in a little over 24 hours’ time, namely on Wednesday night through into Thursday, European time. After just a handful of days on the racetrack in this massive planetary challenge, it’s highly likely that none of the solo sailors will want to rub shoulders with conditions that are overly boisterous for their machine. In any case, such will be the gameplan aboard the Maxi Edmond de Rothschild because with just 4% of the total course covered so far, as the saying goes: “he who takes it slow and steady goes a long way.”

The rhythm and intensity of the sailing during the skippers’ first few days at sea in the Arkea Ultim Challenge - Brest are absolutely crucial. Indeed, the uniformity of the ULTIM fleet, together with the quality of the line-up of solo sailors competing in this 1st edition, means that they’re getting little respite for now. However, managing this element of the race will be one of the keys to success over the coming days and weeks.

Charles Caudrelier, Tuesday 9 January  

“I’m well rested right now. I’m eating well and since last night I’ve clearly switched to round the world mode with a more long-term rhythm! We’ve wiped the slate clean today with more stalling as we round the anticyclone! Everyone’s catching up but it’s not that serious a threat given what awaits us. I’m going to make the most of tonight to rack up some sleep as tomorrow evening will be a whole other ball game. We’re tackling the hard stuff tomorrow with the negotiation of our first depression. The plan is not to be extreme, rather we’ll aim to play for time to ensure the boat handling is smooth. Despite all that, we’ll need to line ourselves up nicely for what will be a very special course, which is carrying us a long way west for now. However, things may well change.”

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